Polygamy is not a legal term – it refers to the practice of being married to more than one person at a time. This means polygamy is not necessarily a crime, because some forms of marriage do not require a legal contract. Bigamy, rather than polygamy, is prosecuted in Florida. This is the crime of entering into a legal marriage while you are lawfully in a marriage with another person.
Polygamy vs. Bigamy
Polygamy is legal in many countries in the world, the vast majority of them in Africa and Asia. Polygamy is illegal in all U.S. states, but many states – like Florida – use the term "bigamy" for the criminal act.
Essentially, polygamy and bigamy mean the same thing – a case in which someone has more than one spouse. In some states, the law uses the terms interchangeably. However, there are some legal differences.
Bigamy occurs when someone legally marries more than one person. That means going through the hoops set out by state law, such as getting a marriage license, paying fees, etc. It may happen on purpose, or by mistake, such as not having a proper, legal divorce before getting remarried.
On the other hand, polygamy is when someone has one legal spouse and one or more co-spouses through some sort of religious marriage that's not legally recognized by the state.
Polygamy laws are slightly different in Utah than in other U.S. states because residents can be found guilty not only for having two (or more) legal marriage licenses, but also for cohabiting with another adult in a committed relationship when they already have a legal marriage with someone else.
Bigamy in Florida Laws
The law relating to bigamy in Florida is the Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 826. Bigamy refers to the act of intentionally and knowingly marrying a spouse when you have an existing marriage contract with another person.
There are some specific exceptions for which an offender may be cleared of committing bigamy. If a person "reasonably believes" his spouse is dead – meaning the spouse has been missing for a period generally no less than five years and is presumed dead – he can legally remarry. Similarly, if a person willfully abandons a spouse for a period of at least three years, and the spouse has no knowledge of whether his estranged spouse is alive, he can remarry.
Bigamy Punishment in Florida
In Florida, the penalty for bigamy is jail time, fines or both. Florida considers bigamy a third-degree felony, punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years and/or fines not exceeding $5,000. Punishments are more severe for repeat or habitual offenders.
- The Florida Senate: Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 826 Section 01
- The Florida Senate: Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 826 Section 02
- The Florida Senate: Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 826 Section 03
- indy100: All the Countries Where Polygamy is Legal
- Reuters: Part of Utah's Bigamy Law Struck Down in Victory for U.S. TV Star
- Holding Hands image by Faith Ashurst from Fotolia.com